It was a warm day. I was a new transplant to NYC having only lived there for the last three months. I was still naive and afraid of the “big city” so I would wake up every day and make my fiance look at me to confirm that he knew what I was wearing when I walked out the door. You know in case, I got kidnapped and murdered on the way to or from work? Naive right?
I was wearing a red light weight sweater and navy blue pants that I had just bought from the mall inside of the north tower of the World Trade Center that weekend. I woke my fiance up to look at my outfit and hurried down the steps of our fifth floor walk up apartment to catch the #6 train downtown to Brooklyn. I was working for a company in Metrotech, downtown Brooklyn, right over the bridge. I walked in the office with a cup of coffee and began to check my messages.
As I began to work, I received a call from a billing agent for one of our health plans about the erroneous billing for terminated members. I was frustrated. We got off the phone and I walked to find my boss to tell him the news. He was walking towards his office as I was approaching him. His head was down with tears in his eyes. I began talking and I stopped and asked “Keith, what’s wrong? Is everything okay?” He said, “No, a plane just hit the World Trade Center.” I asked, “Someone, can’t fly?” He responded, “New York City has a no fly zone. This wasn’t an accident.” He told me to look out the window of the executive conference room.
I walked to the executive conference room and stood there with three other co-workers and saw the north tower on fire. It was just before 9 am and I stood there in shock. Five minutes later I saw the second plane hit. I screamed. People started yelling, “This is not an accident”. I was in shock and said, “I need to call my fiance”. I ran to the phone to try and call my house.
There was no dial tone. I kept pressing the button on the phone by the receptionist’s desk over and over. Trying to get a dial tone. Finally, I heard the dial tone and called home. My fiance answered, “Are you okay?” I responded, “Yeah, I think so. What is this?” He yelled, “I don’t know. Get out of Brooklyn now. Get home.” I responded, “How can I come home?” He responded, “I’m going to call Muhammad to try and get you to his house.” I replied, “Okay, I will try and call you back. I need to call my mom.”
I rushed back to the window to see what was going on. With tears running down my eyes I looked at the TV that someone had cut on in the conference room. Chaos. What was happening? I rushed to my desk to call my mother. I knew she was worried. I couldn’t get a dial tone. I pressed the button on my phone repeatedly praying for a dial tone. I heard the familiar tone and called my mom at work. She didn’t answer the phone. I left a message saying, “Mommy, it’s me. It’s chaos. They’re saying we’re under attack. I’m okay. I am at work. I don’t know how or when I will get home, but I’m safe. It’s hard trying to get a dial tone. But, I love you. I’m okay. Please tell everyone.” I hung up.
I called my sister and my brother-in-law answered. He was asleep. He had just gotten off work two hours prior. He worked overnight. I said, “William, it’s me. Please wake up. Please tell my sister that I’m okay. Please tell her I’m safe.” Sleepily he replied, “Okay.” I hung up. I ran back to the executive conference room and continued to watch with horror the burning towers. I looked at my watch. It was 10 am. Five minutes later, the second tower where I saw the plane hit collapsed. More screams and chaos.
New York City had already been shut down. Flights grounded. This was not happening. This was America. We are the strongest country in the world and we are under attack. I didn’t know about terrorism. It was a foreign concept. Terrorism was crazy militant folks killing kids in Oklahoma not bringing down planes on Wall Street. The fire, the debris, the sounds of sirens. The MTA buses that drove down the streets empty with passengers but filled with armed military men and women with machine guns. The dust, the smoke, the reality.
I will never forget the events that occurred on September 11, 2001. I witnessed history. What was meant to break us, made us stronger and we are survivors. So, say what you will about a country that has it’s faults, but in times of crises we become one family. United. New York taught me that I can overcome anything. You can rebuild. You will survive and you will be stronger because of it.